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[Sundance ’21] Interview with Hazel McKibbin & Angela Wong Carbone of ‘Doublespeak’

An emotional short from Sundance.

Over the course of the past several years, women have been more willing to speak out about sexual harassment at the workplace. This has also led to several movies that have dealt with the topic. Doublespeak is a short film premiering at the Sundance Film Festival that is looking at the issue from another angle. The short shows the aftermath of reporting sexual harassment at the workplace. Director Hazel McKibbin and star Angela Wong Carbon spoke with AIPT about their powerful film.

AIPT: My first question is for Hazel. In Doublespeak, there’s a running theme of having to put on your best face. How important was it for you to show that side of harassment?

Hazel McKibbin: Yeah, it was important in terms of framing. I think the film we open with her kind of getting ready for battle in a leather jacket and her red lipstick. I think in reporting harassment, a lot of it is about perception and how she’s presenting to the world, and that all plays into the outcome in a way. So it was important for me to touch on that, and to also touch on the ways in which she’s not able to say the things that she might want to because of the situation that she’s in.

AIPT: Doublespeak deals exclusively with the aftermath of it. Why did you decide to go in that direction?

McKibbin: I think because the aftermath to me is, it’s the second time that she’s reliving this, and almost to add insult to injury. This whole thing happened, and it was horrible for her, and then she reports it and still nothing. There’s no justice. It just felt like when telling the story I wanted to, I mean, I wanted it to be a short, and so it had to be condensed unity of time, place, and action.

And this was where all those things kind of collide. It’s like she’s recounting what happened, but she’s also almost experiencing . She’s reliving the trauma and then experiencing a new trauma, and it just felt like the meeting point of all of those things coming together was kind of more the aftermath than the actual harassment itself.

AIPT: What do you want audiences to take away from Doublespeak?

Angela Wong Carbone: I think whoever watches this film should come out of it definitely considering all the different pieces that play here in this particular situation. I think the ideal reaction here is to be taken aback by how complex and how many things there are to navigate here. And just with respect to all of the emotions, and the trauma, and how this whole thing is handled, just a newfound interest in considering all the intricacies at play.

I think the best thing that would come out of this is discussions, and hopefully wanting to reach a better understanding of what we can do to navigate these situations better for people like Emma and people at the company that Emma works at. To meet in the middle and have a more empathetic resolution at the end.

McKibbin: I think to add to what Angela said, hopefully the film can be part of a conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace. If audiences watching can feel what Angela felt, what I felt, what the character of Emma felt, you can only want to help be part of a solution to changing both the system and systemic barriers that have created the situation in which they all find themselves.

AIPT: Angela, what drew you to the project?

Carbone: I was really interested in working on this project with Hazel because I felt like it was so eloquent in so few words, and it was deeply personal. You could tell that right away from how the script was constructed. I think it’s so timely now.

Obviously, I have my own personal connections to the character, to her situation, to the message that I thought, “I would love to be able to be the one who helps Hazel tell this story, and I want to bring everything I can to it to imbue it with more honesty, and rawness, and emotion.”

So, it was a lot of that, and also that I thought it would be a great experience to work on this set with all of these women and make something that people could resonate with. It just, it clicked all the boxes, checked all the boxes for me.

AIPT: How emotionally exhausting was it to play that part?

Carbone: I think the content in and of itself, and that the memories, the experiences that it dredges up – not only my own personal experiences but the collective memory of anyone that has been victimized in this way – is exhausting to think about.

But I think what kept me going and what allowed me to be motivated throughout the entire process, and energized, was the fact that I thought if I do this the right way, if I put all of my honesty into it, that we can move people at the end, and we can make changes, and we can foster discussion. And we can bring a new perspective that maybe somebody will see this film and think, “Oh, I never thought of it that way. I didn’t realize it was like that. This needs to change.” Or, “I feel for her.”

So even though it is unsavory and difficult to put yourself in those shoes, I think, just like Emma in the film, you have to think about what’s best for you, and what you can do, and what you can change, and you have to try.

AIPT: There’s a couple of flashbacks, and there’s a very poignant scene at the end there. But for the most part, they don’t really show the aggressor. Why did you choose to go that route?

McKibbin: I felt like sometimes, not that this horror film, but sometimes horror is better if you can’t really see it. I also felt like I didn’t really want to give a face to the character of Peter. I wanted him to always only exist in in flashbacks and sort of out-of-focus shots because he wasn’t the focus. It was her and her experience. He was sort of incidental to the script.

AIPT: How does it feel to have Doublespeak screen at Sundance?

sundance film festival

McKibbin: It’s amazing. I feel so grateful and privileged that the film resonated with the programmers, and that they’re giving a platform to this issue and story that’s super close to my heart. I feel really grateful to be a part of it, and in the company of so many amazing other filmmakers.

Carbone: Yeah. It’s truly a blessing and it feels so validating, especially to have a film of this magnitude and of this kind of con-sensitive message, for it to be recognized and for it to stand at Sundance. It feels really good as an artist and as a woman. It feels amazing to have this support.

AIPT: What future plans do you two have?

McKibbin: So, I’m finishing my MFA at Columbia right now, and I’m working on my thesis film, which hopefully will shoot in July, COVID-allowing. I’m also developing a feature and a TV pilot. Using this downtime, this COVID downtime, to get some writing done.

Carbone:. I’m also working on my writing as well. I had a series that I pitched through IFP that now is kind of in the second stages of meetings, and we just recorded a demo, which is great. An audio series that I wrote called Minor Legends.

I have a few other films that I filmed right before the pandemic that are just starting to get their wings. One of which, Leaving Yellowstone will come out very soon. Just gearing up for pilot season, which is starting right about now. So, just really excited to usher in some new projects in 2021.

Watch Doublespeak here!

DOUBLESPEAK from Hazel McKibbin on Vimeo.

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